Five Questions: Elise

Welcome to! Tell us who you are.

I grew up in a small town in the mountains of northern New Mexico—a rare and eccentric little international community built around a national laboratory. It was there that I met my husband and decided to marry him when I was 12 years old. While my husband argues that he knew he wanted to marry me early on as well, it took him another ten years to actually say so.

Early in our marriage, we eschewed organized religion altogether, opting to commune with God at the beach on Sundays. We weren’t disillusioned with Christ but with the perpetual disappointments of trying to find a spiritual home “in a land of shallow wells,” to quote Matthew Gallatin. When our son was born, we had to revisit the question in earnest: how was our son to be raised? In church? If so, what church? Where could we possibly belong?

We had visited an Orthodox parish in our first year of marriage, mostly out of curiosity, as I had grown up hearing stories of Saints and beautiful Russian churches from my father. Eventually, it became clear that Orthodoxy offered that rich depth and fullness we’d been searching for. We were baptized together as a family in 2016.

What do you most enjoy sharing? What do you feel most called to share? 

As a full-time stay-at-home-mother and novelist, I feel most comfortable sharing through the written word if I can. I love writing stories, and though mine are not at all autobiographical, I find that every work of fiction I write is influenced by my Orthodox faith and the things I am struggling to wrap my head around. I hope my novels impart a desire to breathe more deeply that little whiff of incense that comes off the page—not overpowering, but hopefully unmistakable.

The world of social media is complex. What do you see as difficult and as redemptive about sharing your journey in this way?

I have a love-hate relationship with social media. I hate the time it takes to keep up with it and the angry rhetoric I often experience, especially in an election year during a pandemic. It is emotionally exhausting. On the other hand, I have met some really lovely people through social media and have been able to find community amid isolation. I am encouraged and inspired by the words and creativity of other Orthodox moms and writers and artists in a time when our neighborhood parish community must keep distant.

What is your earliest, distinctly Orthodox memory? 

My earliest memory of Orthodoxy is the stories my father told about Russia, about monks and monasteries, and about Saints—particularly Saint Seraphim of Sarov. I remember his stories about entering one particular little Orthodox church…the smell of beeswax candles and incense, the jingle of the censer, the beauty of the liturgy and the icons—the simplicity and depth of the Jesus prayer. His reminiscences prepared me to enter the church myself and feel almost instantly at home.

What do you hope will be the mark you leave on the world as you pass through it? 

I hesitate to hope that I make a mark at all in this world. It would be enough to become human, and even that seems beyond my reach most days! I do hope my novels carry some lasting value and beauty, but most of all, I leave behind a son who I hope will carry his faith courageously into adulthood and leave a lasting and beautiful mark of his own.


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